A Week of Geek

Monday · January 31, 2011 · 10:10 PM

Over the weekend I participated in my first “Game Jam”, an event where geeks gather to try and write a video game over the course of a single weekend (while non-geeks stand around and try to figure out why this is considered fun). This event was a Global Game Jam – more than six thousand people participated at 170 locations around the world and almost 1500 games were created.

The weekend before the Game Jam. I learned Flash programming (ish) and threw together a quick game as a test for how the Game Jam would work. I spent four hours coding and about the same amount of time making/stealing artwork (creating the transparent rainbow effect was the single biggest time sink of the project). Overall, it’s not a bad game for the time I put into it.

I spent last week reading about Flash until I had dreams about event handlers. I really felt good about my programming knowledge going into the Game Jam. Little did I know what fate had in store when I showed up Friday night.

The first part of the event, we found out the theme of the games that the 60-some odd people would be creating – EXTINCTION. The group walked around talking to each other about random ideas and then we got back together to share them – about 30 games were pitched. After some more talking, everyone attached themselves to the idea that they were most interested in until all of the teams had a reasonable size.

I picked “Robot Loves Humans”, a game that takes place on a spaceship that has the 9 remaining humans, frozen in cryogenic sleep until a suitable new homeworld is found. A glitched robot decides the cryogenic tubes are trash and that they need to be pushed out a garbage chute, effectively exterminating the human race.

The thing that attracted me to the game was the idea that the payer would control the ship. Like the movie 2001, the ship would spin to create gravity – the faster the spin, the higher the gravity and with no spin things would be weightless. Instead of a standard platform game, this looked to have a slick new gameplay element – you control the environment instead of using a plumber-clone to jump through each level.

The irony of the weekend – after becoming an expert (ish) in Flash development, I ended up on a team that used a 3D technology I knew nothing about (Unity3D) and a language I’d never written in (C#).

Luckily, it went great. Alex was the main coder (he actually knew what he was doing) and we (meaning he) managed to hack together the overall world dynamics in the first half of the weekend (I spent that time getting the number “9” displayed in the upper-left hand corner of the screen). After the world was working, Elliot did some more of his 3D modeling magic and added lighting. We spent Sunday morning tweaking and debugging until it felt like a real game.

The work I’m most proud of is the audio – Sean did a great job of creating perfectly atmospheric effects. I was able to layer several ambient sounds in a way that lets the player sense how far he is from the center of the ship. On top of the ambient layer is the sound of the engines, which pitched up and down based on the speed of the spinning. After dropping in a few other subtle sounds and noise, we figured it was interesting enough that the game didn’t need a soundtrack (to appease the musician, we took one of the songs he created and attached it a radio on the first level).

The thing I’m most disappointed with is the lack of “game” in our game. The way the character moves needs a bit of work (navigation is frustrating when you’re slowly floating around, it takes too long to ramp up/down gravity, etc). The big issue is the lack of “level design” – a lot of the ship was thrown together to test out how things work and I don’t think anyone’s playtested the final project to make sure the game can actually be completed.

Anyway, the game is online (the name was changed to Gravity Bot Blues) and you can see for yourself what a game looks like after a couple days of coding. Note that you have to click the main screen, despite the fact that it tells you to hit any key to start the game.

I’ll fix that at next year’s Game Jam.

How to find the perfect wife.

Wednesday · November 03, 2010 · 09:15 AM

Now that I’m married, I thought I’d share the secret to finding the right woman. Step one is finding any woman, which was tricky for me since I don’t go to bars (or wherever the kids are meeting these days) and I work long hours (in an industry that’s male-dominated so a workplace romance is out of the question). The obvious place to meet someone is on-line and I eventually joined Match.com, oddly with the help of Catherine (more about that in another post).

To me, meeting a woman online seemed weird and it took a while before I finally admitted the truth to people. For the longest time, when friends asked how we met, I said that Vanessa and I shared the same parole officer (which may be a good way to meet women, if that option’s available to you).

The big trick to making Match work for you: write well and post an honest picture (they’re going to figure out the truth when you meet them!). Luckily I could do both – my profile was interesting enough and the photo wasn’t hideous, so I was able to hook a good one.

Here’s the profile, which I took off of Match.com when I fell in love (on Aug 15th, 2007 – which says a lot about my “digital pack rat” tendencies):

Don’t match perfectly – someone the exact same as me might get boring. Or maybe not, I’m a pretty entertaining guy.

For Fun:
This space is too small to list everything I enjoy doing – I’m big on trying new things. Lately I’ve been involved in a year-long video newsletter that I hope to send to family members this Christmas.

My Job:
People often comment on how little I talk about work and I see no reason to stop that trend. (Unless you’re having trouble sleeping or something – I could call you and talk about the development of dynamic websites…)

My Ethnicity:
Man, what a tough call. My folks did the genealogy thing and found out that we’re quite a mix. I’m registered with three Native American tribes, unfortunately I got the paleness of my Scottish/English ancestors. [Note to self, rewrite this.]

Favorite Hot Spots:
I live near the T, so I can easily get BBQ at Red Bones in Davis Square, listen to free music at Toad in Porter Square, enjoy a microbrew at John Harvard’s in Harvard Square, and chill after work at The Tavern in Central Square.

Favorite Things:
Nutella, Chevy Chase, Groundhog Day, txt msgs, upper-case I’s, Samurai Champloo, ninjas, monkeys, ninja monkeys, my new tv, my deck, Heroes, Hiro, Wii, David Fincher, granola with vanilla yogurt…

Last Read:
I’ve been on a mystery/suspense kick lately and recently purchased six books from authors I’d never heard of. This is not a good way to buy books. I like Dennis Lehane mysteries as well as Augusten Burroughs and David Sedaris for humor.

About my life and what I’m looking for:
I was born in Lawton (you’ve probably heard of it – it’s the third largest city in Oklahoma) and spent my formative years in New York. This has caused some odd cultural and linguistic situations – I still think NBC is on Channel 4 and that thongs go on your feet. I moved to Somerville in 1997 against my will (when I was relocated for work) and I couldn’t be happier!

It’s a big world and I’ve been actively trying to explore every inch of it – from the Pacific Rim to Europe. I enjoy traveling in the US as well, my goal is to drive to North Dakota, Alaska, and Hawaii (maybe fly to Hawaii) in order to have been in all 50 states.

I have an odd sense of humor – dry with a decidedly quirky flavor. Luckily my friends understand (perhaps even appreciate) my humor. I like being with someone that enjoys laughing and is quick to see the funny side of life. I’m also looking for someone that’s clever, intelligent, confident, and independent. Someone adventurous, but perfectly happy to hang out at home and watch TV (is that a cliche?).

I’d also like someone that will tell me that even though the parachute pants are on sale, I shouldn’t get them.

On a honeymoon, BRB.

Tuesday · October 19, 2010 · 06:42 PM

All sorts of things going on here, sorry for not keeping my blog up to date. I felt like I should post when I had something interesting to say about writing, but that seems to be a bad idea.

In more personal news, I got married last weekend! For long time readers of my blog, it’s no surprise that I’m going to Barcelona on my honeymoon.

More details when I get back. Promise.

"So what's your script about?"

Friday · April 09, 2010 · 03:26 PM

I hate that question. I don’t have a solid logline, which bothers me more than I can express in words. The 30 second elevator pitch – it shouldn’t be that tough. I know the story and the characters. Really, I should be able to tell someone what makes my script so cool. People keep taunting me with the question “what’s it about”.

It’s not hat I don’t know, it’s just tough to put into words. Well, tough to put into 20 words.

My stoner comedy was easy – a guy inherits a laundromat and moves in with his slacker friend – I call it Suds and Buds. Pretty much a sentence that explains the overall feel of the script (stoner comedy) tells you the situation (in a laundromat) and paints a pretty decent picture of what the story’s about. If their eyes haven’t glazed over, I tell them there’s a romantically challenging aspect and a dog named Hummer.

I heard a podcast about loglines that said the first step in a “logline quest” is to describe the story. This starts me with my first challenge.

My script is the first episode of sci-fi TV series. The design of the show has the feeling of an anthology, like Twilight Zone – basically a bunch of stories that are tied together by location. There are some characters that appear in more than one story – a character might show up as a minor character in a story, but later in the season be the star of their own story. For me, the show is less about the specific stories and more about the “place”. The only common element in all of the episodes will be the lawless city that my characters inhabit. Sort of like Deadwood, where everyone is a criminal of some sort.

Every time I try to write something I can hear that guy that does the movie trailers: “In a world … where there is no absolute right or wrong … where everything is painted in shades of gray …”

Things are still forming, I’ll let you know if I figure this piece out…

Is my writing behind schedule? You bet!

Monday · April 05, 2010 · 09:17 AM

Yup, less than a week into ScriptFrenzy and I’m already behind my goals. I like to set my sights above what’s requested of me (like targeting 200 pages instead of 100), but I can’t even manage to write a couple pages a day.

Mostly this is a side effect of the Big Huge deadline that I have with work. When you work 60-70 hours a week, the time you’re not working is sort of “sit on the couch and drool” time. I have a ton of notes about what I want to write and keep adding more notes, so I’m kinda-sorta making progress. But when you look at the ScriptFrenzy Zero Pages bar it feels like I’ll never make my goal. Or even their goal.

I feel pretty lucky that my friends and family support my time writing, but when they ask if they can help, there’s not much anyone can do unless they can alter time or speed up my deadline. Or maybe teleport me off this rock.

ScriptFenzy 2010

Wednesday · March 31, 2010 · 11:29 AM

“Write 100 pages of original scripted material in the 30 days of April.”

ScriptFrenzy. I did it last year, can I do it again? It wasn’t easy, in order to have enough time to write, I took a couple weeks off of work. I was able to pull it off with the help of my mojo – it was sitting on my desk, next to my muse and a case of Dr Pepper.

The thing I was missing last year was a clear focus – the short version: I started on a weak action film and figured out how little I knew about the mechanics of writing a script. I took a step back and wrote some TV scripts.

This year I have a much stronger start. I have a clear idea for what I’m going to write and an overall feel for the beginning, middle, and end. More on that later.

“Prizes: Happiness. Creative juices. Pride. Laughter. Bragging rights. A brand-new script.”

The biggest thing about writing a script is the finishing. Plenty of people have a “great idea”, but when the work starts they lose interest and go watch cartoons. The group that rolls up their sleeves and (good or bad) finishes 100 pages? Those are the writers.

Against all logic, this is why I want to write a script – because I don’t have the free time and a full day of work leaves me too tired to do anything except operate the remote.

“Your ticket to creative adventure.”

What the ScriptFrenzy folks don’t say is that it really helps to have other people read and critique your work. During my day-to-day existence as a programmer, I don’t run into very many creative people, the type of people that you can chat about the best way to structure a log line. The “community” aspect of the site really helps.

So look me up on the ScriptFrenzy site and send some encouragement. And by “encouragement”, I mean “Dr. Pepper”.

Writing a spec TV script? Let me help.

Thursday · March 25, 2010 · 03:15 PM

Writing Don’t #208

Something huge I learned over the past couple months – don’t stress about formatting your TV script to emulate the show’s format.

I spent a fair amount of time downloading “real” scripts and trying to style things so that I could match what the staff writers created. I was worried that I wouldn’t use the right names for locations or that I’d mess up the way flashbacks or digital zooms were handled (like CSI).

It’s a complete non-issue, since the TV scripts that you write are only useful for contest entries and writing samples. And the people who are on the writing team for the show you’re spec’ing are never going to read your script. Ever.

As a rule, the people that read your script won’t be familiar with the show’s conventions. So don’t worry about what the proper name is for the “space behind the interrogation room’s one way glass” – just call it something logical so the reader can follow.